This evening I finished Irish author Rob Doyle’s debut novel, “Here Are the Young Men.” I inhaled it, reading it on my hour-long commute to and from work, and at home as well.
I am a young man. I am twenty-one years old.
The day before I finished the book, I joked with a friend that I couldn’t wait to read the review in the Irish Times.
Because I knew it would be funny. I knew it would be funny by virtue of being absolutely full of shit.
I was right.
“Here Are the Young Men” is set in the summer of 2003. It details the anxieties and the lashings-out against nothingness of a group of friends who have just sat the Leaving Cert. The characters consume a lot of alcohol and other drugs throughout.
In the book, the characters are all different.
In the Irish Times review, they are all the same. In fact, they are not even multiple identical characters. They are one being, denoted by one lazy pronoun. The following paragraph is from the review, with my own annotations pointing out where the characters have been merged into one:
“They gorge on drugs, booze (all characters), video games, snuff films and hard-core porn (Kearney, although they probably all watch porn). In their eyes 9/11 was an atrocity exhibition, Columbine a black comedy (Kearney), the Iraq War cathode eye candy (Kearney, and Rez in a different way). They are sick with self-loathing, given to nihilistic acts of violence (mostly Kearney), prey to suicidal impulses.”
Given that Kearney is the most despicable character, it makes sense to imply that he embodies the whole group. That is, if you are writing about a group of people that you don’t understand and that scare you. The effacing of the separate and human identities of the titular young men turns them back into faceless hooded entities, something that the novel strives to avoid. It is an act of violence against a generation: You are less than an individual. You are merely an element that people like me may observe, comment on, and generally deplore, while we scratch our beards and look down at the traffic on Tara Street.
Here’s another zinger:
“Here Are the Young Men is set in 2003, when Tiger cubs were more likely to plug into the first-person shooter or get hammered in a sports bar than bother with books.”
Sure none of them young lads read books, or they didn’t in 2003, or they don’t any more, or something. Fuck off.
Also, you can’t say “the first-person shooter” in that sentence. You don’t go to a library and take out “the novel”.
“They think too much: such men are dangerous.”
Bang on, mister.
“Here Are the Young Men probably won’t go down well in polite society. It’s not the stuff of book-club cheese-and-wine soirees.”
How can you have the weight of the last century behind you and even bother to write these words?
“The 20-year-old might read this book for transgressive kicks; the older male will take it as a lament for the blank generation…”
Are you fucking serious?
- I am not “the 20-year-old.” I am a person who happens to have been born around twenty years ago.
- I am not “blank.”
- I read books for more than “transgressive kicks.”
This book-review is a beautiful example of a much larger attempt to shore up power, and control the discourse. A lot of people in politics, the media, and the cultural sphere are scared of the young women and men. The comfortable hegemony of the middle-aged middle-class is under threat from the young and the poor. The reaction to this is to close ranks, to shut us out. This does not take place as a grand conspiracy, but rather as a series of micro-incidents in language. It could be this book review, or it could be a university president telling us that we all need to take classes in entrepreneurship, because we are so useless.
The middle-aged middle-class do not want to talk to us. They want to talk about us and at us. If we had a discussion with these people on equal terms, they might end up losing some of their money and power.